Why It’s Perfectly Fine to Buy Discount Shrimp

The cheap shrimp cocktail on grocery store shelves is safe and delicious to eat.

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shrimp cocktail
Photo: Smith Collection/Gado (Getty Images)

Every’ time I go to my local grocery store, regardless of what’s on my list, there’s one place I always go: the prepared foods cooler. I’m not there for the in-house sandwiches or pasta salads, but rather to see if I can get my shellfish fix with a helping of discounted shrimp cocktail.

For the past several years, the Jewel (Chicago-area grocery chain) by my apartment has kept the display next to the deli counter stocked with small containers filled with approximately 10 cold, fully cooked shrimp with cocktail sauce and sometimes a slice of lemon. A big red sticker with “$5” written in white always entices me—I grabbed it once, enjoyed it as a delicious little lunchtime treat, and haven’t looked back since.

Lately the prices have dropped even lower: the shrimp was $3.99 upon my last visit. Which has me wondering, why aren’t more people buying this discount shrimp?

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How long does shrimp stay fresh?

When I first shared this practice with some friends their first reaction was a valid one: “I hope that doesn’t make you sick.” So far, it hasn’t.

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Shrimp has been linked to salmonella outbreaks in the past, and even healthy shrimp has to be cooked all the way to ensure there’s no bacteria left. The nice thing about shrimp is that it’s easy to tell from the outside if it’s fully cooked. Before scooping up a shrimp snack of your own, take a long hard look at those curly little crustaceans to make sure every piece is nice and pink and no longer translucent—any hint of gray or transparency and your gut is in for a world of trouble.

How to store shrimp

Once cooked, shrimp can be stored in the refrigerator for up to four days and in the freezer for up to a full year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If you want to be extra cautious, just assume that your grocery store is keeping its shrimp cocktail in the fridge (though it’s possible they freeze the leftovers overnight, a tactic that would in fact keep the seafood fresh for longer). This is where checking the label is important: My last shrimpy treat was packaged on 2/15/22, and I scooped it up on 2/16/22. We’re in the clear, folks, so long as you eat it right away. If you leave those things unattended at room temperature for more than two hours, you should throw them right in the trash.

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Why discount shrimp is worth it

Even with all this science telling me that deep discount shrimp is, in fact, safe, I still sometimes get side eyes. Why make this part of your grocery routine? You just... eat the shrimp? By itself? Is it even good?

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The simplest answer is, I love shrimp. Chowing down on a simple snack of shrimp dipped in a little cocktail sauce is one of my greatest joys, one that I used to think was reserved only for special occasions. Why can’t a weekday lunch also be a special occasion, especially when the price is right?

That being said, I don’t want to overstuff myself with the little guys. The only other way to purchase cooked yet cold shrimp is often in party-sized rings meant for Super Bowl gatherings or office parties. And knowing that such a large quantity of shrimp would only stay good for a week in the fridge, I would hate for the task of finishing the entire ring to become a chore, stripping the shrimp of all its pleasure.

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Even though it’s tucked in a humble plastic container, when I’m eating my discounted shrimp snack, I might as well be eating a $20 shrimp cocktail from the fanciest restaurant in town. To me, it tastes just as good. So long as Jewel keeps selling what I assume are leftover shrimps that it just need to get the hell out the door, for less than a fiver I can treat myself to a shellfish treat that makes me feel like a million bucks.